The potential dangers of semi-autonomous and self-driving vehicles was recently illustrated by a pair of fatal crashes. Two separate, highly-publicized motor vehicle accidents involving the technology killed a pedestrian and a motorist in March. In the wake of the fatalities, many states, along with voluntary cooperation from at least one of the companies involved, halted all testing of self-driving vehicles.
The first accident occurred in Tempe, Arizona when a vehicle being tested by Uber hit and killed a pedestrian who was walking her bike across a street. The vehicle’s detection system failed to detect and recognize the pedestrian as an “obstacle” that would require the vehicle to brake. The second death occurred less than a week later near Mountain View, California.
In the latter crash, the driver operating a Tesla SUV in semi-autonomous driving mode when the vehicle crashed into a barrier along the highway, killing the driver of the vehicle. In both accidents, there was a driver behind the wheel of the vehicle. In both cases, the driver had the ability to brake and prevent the accident from occurring – or at least lessening the impact – but failed to do so.
Despite these recent fatal accidents, Drive.ai, a Silicon Valley startup, is proceeding with plans to roll out a self-driving taxi service. In early May, the company began limited testing of its self-driving vehicles in Frisco, Texas, a city of 175,000 people outside Dallas. The firm’s testing mark the first obvious move forward for self-driving technology since the traffic fatalities in March. Uber, for its part, has not resumed road testing of its autonomous vehicles.
Source: New York Times, “After Fatal Uber Crash, a Self-Driving Start-Up Moves Forward,” Cade Metz, May 7, 2018